Trump’s Diminishing Power and Rising Rage

None of Trump’s extremist policy ideas has received public support. The public opposed last year’s

  1. Republican-backed corporate tax cut, Trump’s
  2. effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), his
  3. proposed border wall with Mexico, the decision to
  4. withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, and the
  5. imposition of tariff increases on China, Europe, and others.
  6. At the same time, contrary to Trump’s relentless promotion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), the public favors investments in renewable energy and remaining in the Paris climate agreement.

.. Trump has tried to implement his radical agenda using three approaches.

1) The first has been to rely on the Republican majorities in the two houses of Congress to pass legislation in the face of strong popular opposition. That approach succeeded once, with the 2017 corporate tax cut, because big Republican donors insisted on the measure, but it failed with Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare, as three Republican senators balked.

.. 2)  The second approach has been to use executive orders to circumvent Congress. Here the courts have repeatedly intervened, most recently within days of the election, when a federal district court halted work on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project strongly opposed by environmentalists, on the grounds that the Trump administration had failed to present a “reasoned explanation” for its actions. Trump repeatedly and dangerously oversteps his authority, and the courts keep pushing back.

.. 3) Trump’s third tactic has been to rally public opinion to his side. Yet, despite his frequent rallies, or perhaps because of them and their incendiary vulgarity, Trump’s disapproval rating has exceeded his approval rating since the earliest days of his administration. His current overall disapproval rating is 54%, versus 40% approval, with strong approval from around 25% of the public. There has been no sustained move in Trump’s direction.

.. In the midterm elections, which Trump himself described as a referendum on his presidency, the Democratic candidates for both the House and Senate vastly outpolled their Republican opponents. In the House races, Democrats received 53,314,159 votes nationally, compared with 48,439,810 for Republicans. In the Senate races, Democrats outpolled Republicans by 47,537,699 votes to 34,280,990.

.. Summing up votes by party for the three recent election cycles (2014, 2016, and 2018), Democratic Senate candidates outpolled Republican candidates by roughly 120 million to 100 million. Nonetheless, the Republicans hold a slight majority in the Senate, where each state is represented by two senators, regardless of the size of its population, because they tend to win their seats in less populous states, whereas Democrats prevail in the major coastal and Midwestern states.

Wyoming, for example, elects two Republican senators to represent its nearly 580,000 residents, while California’s more than 39 million residents elect two Democratic senators. 

Without control of the House, however, Trump will no longer be able to enact any unpopular legislation. Only policies with bipartisan support will have a chance of passing both chambers.

.. On the economic front, Trump’s trade policies will become even less popular in the months ahead as the American economy cools from the “sugar high” of the corporate tax cut, as growing uncertainty about global trade policy hamstrings business investment, and as both the budget deficit and interest rates rise. Trump’s phony national-security justifications for raising tariffs will also be challenged politically and perhaps in the courts.

.. True, Trump will be able to continue appointing conservative federal judges and most likely win their confirmation in the Republican-majority Senate. And on issues of war and peace, Trump will operate with terrifyingly little oversight by Congress or the public, an affliction of the US political system since World War II. Trump, like his recent predecessors, will most likely keep America mired in wars in the Middle East and Africa, despite the lack of significant public understanding or support.

.. Nonetheless, there are three further reasons to believe that Trump’s hold on power will weaken significantly in the coming months. First, Special Counsel Robert Mueller may very well document serious malfeasance by Trump, his family members, and/or his close advisers. 

.. Second, the House Democrats will begin to investigate Trump’s taxes and personal business dealings, including through congressional subpoenas. There are strong reasons to believe that Trump has committed serious tax evasion (as the New York Times recently outlined) and has illegally enriched his family as president (a lawsuit that the courts have allowed to proceed alleges violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution). Trump is likely to ignore or fight the subpoenas, setting the stage for a major political crisis.

.. Third, and most important, Trump is not merely an extremist politician. He suffers from what author Ian Hughes has recently called “a disordered mind,” filled with

  • hate,
  • paranoia, and
  • narcissism.

According to two close observers of Trump, the president’s grip on reality “will likely continue to diminish” in the face of growing political obstacles, investigations into his taxes and business dealings, Mueller’s findings, and an energized political opposition. We may already be seeing that in Trump’s erratic and aggressive behavior since the election.

.. The coming months may be especially dangerous for America and the world. As Trump’s political position weakens and the obstacles facing him grow, his mental instability will pose an ever-greater danger. He could explode in rage, fire Mueller, and perhaps try to launch a war or claim emergency powers in order to restore his authority. We have not yet seen Trump in full fury, but may do so soon, as his room for maneuver continues to narrow. In that case, much will depend on the performance of America’s constitutional order. 

Transcript: Donald Trump interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

But my family said to me – and Don has said this, and Ivanka, and my wife has said this – “Be more presidential.” Because I can be very presidential. I jokingly say, I can be more presidential than any president that this country has ever had except for Abraham Lincoln, because he was [unclear]. Right? You can’t out-top Abraham Lincoln.

BW: Isn’t that what people want to see now?

DT: Yeah. Yeah, but they said… Yes.

BW: In the Republican Party, I mean . . . there is a lot of angst and rage and distress.

DT: A lot. Record-setting.

BW: Record-setting.

DT: I bring…

BW: And you have to tame that rage, don’t you?

DT: Yes, yes, but I bring that out in people. I do. I’m not saying that’s an asset or a liability, but I do bring that out.

BW: You bring what out?

DT: I bring rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have. I think it was . . .  . I don’t know if that’s an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do. I also bring great unity out, ultimately. I’ve had many occasions like this, where people have hated me more than any human being they’ve ever met. And after it’s all over, they end up being my friends. And I see that happening here. But when my wife and Ivanka and the rest of my family, for the most part — Tiffany, my daughter, she’s a very smart young woman, she’s up at University of Pennsylvania doing great — and she said to me the same thing.

BW: Be presidential?

DT: Be presidential. Now . . .  .

BW: When did they start saying this to you?

DT: Well, they really started saying it before the last debate. The last debate. And if you noticed, my attitude was much different in the last debate, okay? But I said, wait a minute. According to every single — you know, Drudge, and all of the polls, they do these online – they have polls for everything. They do debate polls. And you know what I’m talking about.

RC: Sure.

DT: Hundreds of thousands of people vote. I won every single debate. Every single debate. And I was rough and I was nasty. And I was treated nastily by the other side too. And then Rubio went, you know, Rubio went Don Rickles on me, and all of a sudden he became cute and he started getting extremely nasty. And I had to get even nastier to him. Now, what happened —and then started with the Little Marco. Come on, Little Marco. Little Marco over here said this and that. And he didn’t want to — he didn’t stop that, he didn’t stop that because he was told, oh, he should stop. He stopped that because I was outdoing him. But here’s the thing.

BW: We understand the history of this. We followed.

DT: Right, but here’s the thing.

RC: So is it . . .  .

DT: Wait.

RC: Sure.

DT: Okay, so my family comes up. Don. My daughter Tiffany, who’s a great kid. Ivanka. My wife. And we were together. They said, “Be presidential, Dad, be presidential.” Last debate. I said, wait a minute. If I get hit, I’m going to hit back. That’s not going to look very presidential, because I hit back and you hit back. I said, I’m going to give it a shot. And I was actually — you know, the last debate was actually a much different debate . . .  .

RCO: Right.

DT: In terms of my tone. And I actually got my highest ratings on that debate.

RC: But I’m just struck by — we’re asking the questions about being presidential. So many other people have asked, can Trump pivot, can he shift to a different kind of tone? And correct me if I’m wrong, but my view, listening to you, is you actually don’t really have that much interest in changing too much.

DT: Not yet. Not yet.

RC: But it seems your natural inclination is to fight . . .  .

DT:    No.

RC:    No?

DT:  My — yes, always to fight. My natural inclination is to win. And after I win, I will be so presidential that you won’t even recognize me. You’ll be falling asleep, you’ll be so bored.

BW: Really. But when Ted Cruz said what he said, and then you said, I don’t need his support.

DT: I don’t need his support. I don’t believe I need it.

BW: Now, what would your family say to you?

DT:  Well, what I said is, I don’t need his . . .  .

BW: What would a president say? What would Reagan say? What would Lincoln say if the opposition came and said whatever they said, and then you said  . . .  .

DT: Well Bob . . .  .

BW:  Hey, look, we are going to bind up  . . .  .

DT: Yeah.

BW: Not the nation’s wounds at this point, the party’s . . .  .

RC: You think maybe you do need Cruz’s support? Maybe you do need it at some point.

DT: I don’t think — I have the people’s support. I have a tremendous group. And by the way, let me just, before we get off that one — because you were saying about Cruz — it wasn’t like he embraced me.

BW: No, he didn’t.

DT:  It wasn’t like he said, oh, I will endorse Donald Trump. He is so wonderful, and if I don’t make it he is somebody that I think would be fantastic. Well, he didn’t exactly say that, Bob. He said . . .  . He was pained having to answer the question.

BW: Right.

DT: So it wasn’t like I’m saying, I don’t want his support, as he says great things about me. So I had no guilt whatsoever saying it. I do believe it.

BW: Do you think you’re going to be at a point where you’re going to have to call him and say, “Ted, I need you?”

DT: I’ll never have to call him. I may be at a point where I call him, but I never will . . .  .

BW: And what would you say? If you won the nomination, would you call him and say . . .  .

DT: I would call him to say congratulations on a great job. Because out of 17 people, you beat 16. Okay? Which is pretty good, to put it mildly. You know, we had a lot of talent. When I first ran, and this is where I had some doubts, because what do I know? I didn’t know most of these people. Although I’d been very political. I’d given a lot of money. I gave $350,000 last year to the Republican Governors Association. I was a member of the establishment, if you think about it, and very high standing because of . . .  .

BW: Could you say to Ted Cruz, “Ted, the coalition-building is going to begin right now. I need your support and help and advice?”

DT: I don’t think I’d say it that way, but I would be able . . .  .

BW: How would you say it?

DT:  . . . to get along with some of the people that I was competing against. Now, I will say this: Some of the people that I was competing against, I’m not sure they can ever go back to me. I was very rough on Jeb. I was told when I first started that Jeb was the preemptive favorite. He was going to  . . .  .

RC: Right. But you don’t have a strategy for these “Never Trump” people? You would think if you’re the nominee, you would have to find a way to bring Bush into the fold, to bring a Rubio into the fold.

DT:    I don’t think — look . . .  .

RC: Do you have a strategy for that at all?

DT: I think that’s overrated, what you’re saying, about bringing them into the fold. At the same time, I think I would be successful with many of them. I don’t know that I’ll be successful with Jeb Bush.

RC:    Right.

BW: How about Cruz? What would you say to him, Donald?

DT: I think I would . . .  .

BW: Because this is really — I think this . . .  .

DT:  Yeah, I understand.

BW: We get pivot points, and we’re going from a phase of . . .  .

DT: I think Cruz and I could get along very well. I actually think so. We got along very well for six months.

BW: Would you say, “I need your support?”

DT: We got along very well for six months when I was attacking everybody.

BW: Right. But now you’re going to have to reach out to him, aren’t you, if this is going to work?

DT: Well, we’ll have to see what happens. I don’t think now, Bob, because he wants to win and I want to win. And I guess Kasich wants to win, although Kasich’s only won one out of 28, right? That’s not so good.

RC: Our big picture is how Reagan in 1980 competed against George H. W. Bush in the primary, then put him on the ticket.

DT: Yeah, and got along. And truly disliked each other.

RC: And put him on the ticket.

DT: Yeah.

RC: Considers him to be part of the team, team of rivals. Could you have a team of rivals in a general election?

DT: I would never want to say that now. Right now, I just want to win. And I don’t want to say who’s going to be — as an example, people are saying, you should pick so-and-so as vice president. It’s just too early for that. In my opinion, it’s too . . .   .

RC:  You have a few names on your mind about VP?

DT: I do. I do have names.

RC: Can you share one or two?

DT: I’d rather not do it now.

RC: One or two?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: But Dr. Carson’s come to the campaign, and Chris Christie’s come to the campaign, and they were rivals in the past. And they said there was one person who we believe is going to make the country great again.

DT:    Very good point.

CL: And look, nobody hit Dr. Carson harder than Mr. Trump did. It was very fair, and he made a very impressive speech in Iowa.

DT:  The only thing I did with Dr. Carson — because I respect him a lot — but I just talked about his book. Because he wrote things in his book, and all I did was quote from his book. Because, you know, it was tough stuff what he wrote about himself. He wrote about himself. It’s an amazing story. And he . . .  .

BW: Without names . . . .

DT:  . . . understands that.

BW: . . . as vice president, what would be the role and responsibilities of your vice president, should you be elected, should you win the nomination?

DT: Well, the number one role is to be a great president if something should happen. Okay? That’s always got to be the number one role for a vice president. After that, I would say, frankly, somebody that can help you get elected. And then thirdly, somebody that helps you with the Senate and with the House. So it would be a political person. In other words, I don’t need to have another great businessman come in and — I don’t need that. What I do . . .  .

BW: Somebody who knows dreaded Washington, perhaps.

DT:  Somebody that can walk into the Senate and who’s been friendly with these guys for 25 years, and people for 25 years. And can get things done. So I would 95 percent see myself picking a political person as opposed to somebody from the outside.

BW: And would that person be integral to the governing team you would have in the White House? Go to all meetings, have total access?

DT: Yes, I would. . . . Sure. Sure. This would be a vice president — I would like to have somebody. . . . For instance, somebody like Ben Carson. When Ben Carson came to me — not necessarily vice president — but when he came to me, he called, he said, “What you’re doing is amazing. It’s a movement. And you see that.” When I announce I’m going to go to Tampa three days before, and we go there three days later, there’s 25,000 people in the stadium that houses the professional sports teams . . .   .

RC: No, it says a lot that — you are acknowledging that you don’t want to have another outsider as part of your team.

DT: Yeah.

RC: You need an insider.

DT: Somebody like Ben Carson, he never once said to me, could I have a position?

RC: He doesn’t fit that model.

DT:  No, no, he doesn’t. But he will be absolutely somebody that I’d love to have involved with us at a high level, at a very high level. Chris Christie. Chris called, he said, I’d love to be involved. And I said, that’s great. I’ve never been a big one for endorsements. Although Tom Brady loves me in New England; I think that’s why I got 50 percent. Okay? Tom Brady loves me. [Laughter] That helped.

RC: So, sticking on this presidency theme for a second, I don’t think a lot of people know that much about how much you value discretion, loyalty within your business.

DT: Great loyalty, yes. Great discretion, great loyalty.

RC: But it’s different when you’re running the federal government.

DT:  Well, it’s . . .  .

RC:  And one thing I always wondered, are you going to make employees of the federal government sign nondisclosure agreements?

DT:  I think they should. You know, when somebody — and I see it all the time. . . .  And I don’t know, there could be some kind of a law that you can’t do this. But when people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that. I mean, I’ll be honest. And people would say, oh, that’s terrible, you’re taking away his right to free speech. Well, he’s going in. . . .  I would say . . . I do have nondisclosure deals. That’s why you don’t read that. . . .

BW: With everyone? Corey has one, Hope has one.

DT:  Corey has one, Hope has one. Did you sign one?

HH: Of course.

CL: Stephen [Miller, Trump’s policy adviser] has one.

DT: Stephen has one.

CL: [Donald Trump, Jr.] has one.

DTJ.: I don’t have one. I’m in the middle of the book. [Laughter]

CL: Don has two. [Laughter]

DT: I know, I forgot, he’s the one I’m most worried about.

DTJ: I’m not getting next week’s paycheck until I sign one.

DT: I have a very, very, very prominent businessman who’s right now got a person — he’s involved in litigation, terrible litigation with somebody that worked for him in a very close level. And I said why are you . . .  .

BW: Do you think these are airtight agreements?

DT:    Yeah, totally. I think they’re very airtight. They’re very . . .  .

BW: And that no one could write a book or . . .  .

DT: I think they’re extremely airtight. And anybody that violated it —  let’s put it this way: it’s so airtight that I’ve never had . . . you know, I’ve never had a problem with this sort of thing.

BW: Let us ask this . . .  .

DT:  By the way, this man called me, he said, how is it that you don’t have — as famous as you are? And I sent him a copy of the agreement. He said, this is genius. And he now has people that go to work for him. I don’t like people that take your money and then say bad things about you. Okay? You know, they take your . . .  .

RC:  But it’s so different when you’re in the federal government.

DT:  It’s different, I agree. It’s different.

RC:  But you are recommending nondisclosure…

DT: And I tell you this, I will have to think about it. I will have to think about it. That’s a different thing, that I’m running a private company and I’m paying people lots of money, and then they go out and…

BW: The taxpayers are paying the other people in the federal government.

DT:  Sure. Sure. They don’t do a great job, and then you fire them and they end up writing a book about you. So it’s different. But I will say that in the federal government it’s a different thing. So it’s something I would think about. But you know, I do right now — I have thousands and thousands of employees, many thousands, and every one of them has an agreement, has a . . .  I call it a confidentiality . . .  .